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How To Use Encouragement to Reinforce Your Child’s Good Behavior

KellyYoung-2By Kelly Young, LMSW
Director of Family Preservation Services for the Kansas City Region, KVC Kansas 

This article from the KVC Institute for Health Systems Innovation is the third in a 12-part series on parenting skills. See previous articles.


Have you asked your child to do something lately and they actually complied? Perhaps you used one of the strategies from our first blog in this series on giving good directions and it worked! Ready for some more good news? You can reinforce this good behavior through the use of encouragement.

Encouragement, or positive reinforcement, helps parents teach their children what behaviors are expected and appropriate. This strategy can be used as a means to promote something desired – in this case, cooperation and good behavior from children. One way parents can reinforce good behavior through encouragement is to create a contingent environment in which the desired behavior earns a positive consequence. The positive consequence serves to motivate the child to continue with the desired behavior.

Here are 5 steps to help parents reinforce their child’s good behavior and set them up for success:

  1. Be clear in your expectations by using effective directions. “Susie, put your shoes in the closet now, please.”
  2. Take notice when your child displays good behavior or follows through with instructions.
  3. Be generous with praise and attention for the desired behavior.
  4. Be consistent and follow through with the use of praise and small rewards for the desired behavior.
  5. Use the when/then rule. When the child behaves appropriately, then they earn a positive consequence.

There are varying structured levels of encouragement that parents can use to reinforce good behavior. Here are a few examples:

  • Social reinforcement: verbal and non-verbal forms of praise.
  • Token system: the desired behavior earns a small token in which a pre-specified number of tokens earn a small reward.
  • Incentive charts: used to teach a behavior by breaking the behavior into smaller steps and each step is assigned a point value. A pre-determined number of points earn a daily reward.
  • Behavior contract: a signed document that specifies the details of the agreement.

Interested in setting up a simple token system? Download this encouragement token system sheet and track your progress!

Encouragement is one of twelve skills taught in the Parent Management Training- Oregon (PMTO) model. PMTO is developed on forty years of research and practice with the core belief that parents are their children’s best teachers. KVC teaches this empowering evidence-based practice to parents and caregivers involved in the child welfare system, but the lessons learned from this model can be beneficial for any parent or caregiver. To learn about PMTO in Kansas, visit the Kansas Department for Children and Families’ website.

Read the other articles in this parenting skills blog series.

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